Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (1995)

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It was a new era, not necessarily for Bruce but for me. In the relatively short period of time between the release of Human Touch/Lucky Town and The Ghost of Tom Joad, time finally ran out of my marriage. By the time this record had come out, I had found new love and was looking at what seemed like a new life.

In the lead time before the release date, I had warned this new person of my musical obsessions. I would be purchasing the album on the morning of the release, and there would be some intensive listening sessions to follow. But instead of doing what I usually do, which is to buy the album during the work day and then spend the rest of the day at “work” listening to it, I held off and didn’t even open the package until getting home that night (yeah, that took some will power). I introduced her to my listening ritual, which is nothing more than sitting down and reading the liner notes/lyrics as the initial play goes by.

We settle down on the couch and pressed “Play.” That the stories would be bleak was a given. Looking back, I don’t remember what my expectations were for her reaction, or that I was even concerned about them. Was I trying to impress her? No, it was more that I felt the need to be honest about this one thing in my life that was hugely important. Was it a gamble? Maybe.

And “bleak” is the key word for this album. The dust bowl days were indeed dark ones, and the theme of the unfortunate ones is one that is threaded through much of Springsteen’s work. Because of the sonics involved, people like to speak of this record in the same breath as Nebraska. While there are some similarities, I’ve always seen this as of a piece with his collection of songs that (in his own words, distilled) attempt to describe the distance between the American Dream and the American Reality.

Did my gamble pay off? Well, it didn’t hurt. That “new love” is now known as TheWife™

Up next: Straight Time

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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